A remodeler was selected along with several other professionals to sit as a juror in a case heard in front of King County Superior Court in Seattle early in 2014. The lucky remodeler was Melissa Irons, CGR, CGP,CAPS and office manager at Irons Brothers Construction in Shoreline, Wash. She proudly served as a juror, while collecting several valuable business lessons in the experience. Irons already has applied what she learned to a few of her company’s potential new projects. Now, Irons shares her business advice below, in her own words:
“Because this case involved construction, I learned a few lessons that can be applied to any general contractor’s practice and/or at least serve as good reminders of best practices to consider. The case involved two homeowners on neighboring properties where an easement was written as a portion of the two-car garage that sat between the two property lines. The easement users understood that they were allowed to perform construction and did so without obtaining permission from the easement holder.
Going into the case I had some preconceived notions about feuding neighbors and their abilities to work things out amongst each other, without the legal system. But, as I listened to the evidence I further understood that at times the legal system is important for helping homeowners and sometimes neighbors resolve larger, more complex disputes.
The contractor was not a listed defendant but was instrumental in the trial. Following are the takeaways from the case:
- Always take before photos of existing site conditions, including close-up details, all four walls and a view of the entire site. You never know why, when or how these may be needed in the future and/ or for litigation. If there is an adjacent property near the worksite, include this in your photos.
- Ask the client or potential client if any property easement(s) exist, and if they exist get a copy to review it so you understand what it says and what it applies to. Don’t trust hearsay from the property owner. If needed, seek legal advice to understand/ clarify the easement, rights and use.
- Review the worksite and determine if it involves any critical areas such as slope or slide, or if the work you will be doing could impact another part of the property, structure or neighboring building. If so, determine if your scope of work will require engineering review, structural or geotechnical engineering.
- If a dispute arises between neighbors when you're working on a property/project or a neighbor comes to you during the work about a concern, either on your client’s property or their neighboring property, address it ASAP and work directly with your client. Stop work until a resolution is achieved or conditions are safe to continue and any disputes have been resolved. This is important especially if you are working on a project that involves an easement.
- Take pictures daily during the course of the project. Document the work being completed each day.
- Clearly understand whether a permit will be required in the jurisdiction you're working in for the scope of work, and what type of permit and inspections will be required. Obtain the permit prior to the commencement of work and post visually onsite. If an easement exists identify if you need a permit for both properties.
- Home buyers should ask the selling agent and their realtor if easements exist. If they do, retain a copy ASAP and read it. If there is an easement document, read it and understand it before signing and agreeing to it. You will be bound by its requirements when you sign it. If you do not understand the easement language, seek the advice of an attorney.”